Arithmophobia, math anxiety, math phobia–call it what you will but MSNBC estimates that 1 in 2 Americans experience the fear of mathematics. If you look at a math problem, get sweaty palms, and have the urge to give up almost immediately, then you probably have this phobia. Experts attribute this fear of mathematics to be perpetuated by math avoidance, misconceptions, and poor performance. This math avoidance encourages, not prevents future anxiety just as an actress with stage fright would not get better by avoiding acting roles.
Managing math anxiety starts with clearing up misconceptions regarding math.
Myth #1: Math is only used by mathematicians and elite scientists.
Painters use geometry to balance shapes and vantage points. The sales associate puts together metrics to measure performance, and figures out how many calls to make, the average order value, and more to determine their success. The cook measures the precise amount of flour, yeast, baking soda, salt, and other agents to give the proper leaven for the bread to rise and cuts the recipe in half if feeding fewer people. Math is used every day, and when learned, it can prevent big headaches rather than cause them.
Myth #2: Math is an innate trait.
Math is learned just as walking is. Some learn faster than others, but hard work determines mathematical ability more than genetics. The talented pianist is not born to play piano, but must spend hours practicing technique and rhythm, just as a math problem must be worked through in various forms for the brain to understand and apply the concept.
Myth #3: Math takes too long.
This myth is partially true, but when looked at, seems to be more of a problem of math not being relevant. Math is a universal language spoken in various mobile devices, computers, cars, televisions, iPods, and more. When math is understood it can be enabling and build confidence that spills over to other subjects.
If these myths are not tackled then math will be feared, avoided, and more feared creating a perpetual, negative spiral.